Author - Jerry Paxton

Comic Con 2008 – Stargate Worlds Hands-On Impressions

At a hotel across the street from the San Diego Comic Con convention going on last weekend, we got a chance to checkout Cheyenne Mountain’s Stargate Worlds and even play it for a bit!

The first thing we saw was a video showing off various landscapes in the game. Stargate Command looks amazing, and we were told that they have fleshed the base out quite a bit more than what was seen on the show. It will be interesting to explore the locations we remember from the show as well as all the new nooks and crannies in Cheyenne Mountain.

Then it was a bit of Q&A with the dev team showing us the game. We learned that human characters will still loot mobs in the field and equip any items they wish. Items that are not wanted can be sold, traded, or broken down into their constituent components for crafting later on. Also, new items can be researched and, if you are good enough, you will gain new item blueprints to build from later on. The weapons are being custom designed by Cheyenne Mountain, based off of real-world weaponry but the P-90 will definitely be making an appearance (much to the delight of fans everywhere).

The game will initially ship with a 32-bit executable, but there is a possibility they will create a 64-bit version later on down the line (obviously, no eta given). Stargate Worlds will be a DirectX 9 title, however there could be a DirectX 11 upgrade, because of its backwards-compatibility, later on down the line (again, no eta given).

The dev then played a bit of the game, showing us the ropes and, most importantly, the cover system they have devised. Combat is handled with old-school ‘internal dice rolls’ ala EverQuest. Players will, of course, have special attacks and abilities (with cool-down timers)to use as well. This cover system is what will really separate the combat in Stargate Worlds from other MMOs, however. Players have a circular indicator on their screen which will tell them from what arcs they are covered by surrounding objects, etc. Enemies will also appear as blips on this display. If they are inside one of your covered arcs, you will receive a defensive bonus. If they are outside of it, then you better move your butt to some better cover! When you target an enemy you will see their cover arcs as well. If you maneuver outside of their cover, you will gain an attack bonus against them.

The enemy AI is based off of different sets of behaviors, which not only allow the mobs to react based on their own needs to find and exploit cover, but also what is happening to other mobs around them. According to developers, an AI opponent might decide to change tactics in mid-combat if, say, their stronger friends get taken out. The enemy AI could decide to go into a totally defensive mode against the players. Then again, if they are the only one left, they might decide to charge you (not a good plan).

Also, players can run and shoot at the same time (albeit with a to-hit penalty) which makes combat a cool mix of old-school MMO and contemporary actioner as players move from cover to cover as necessary to gain a tactical advantage over the enemy. Teamwork will be crucial, as having multiple team members at multiple angles of fire is one of the greatest ways to overcome an enemy. This feature will, hopefully, keep the Leeroy Jenkins’ charges to a minimum as without thinking through your tactics your goose is surely cooked.

Vehicular combat is missing from the base game, as the developers said they wanted to get the ground-game as the primary focus of Stargate Worlds. Although, it seemed fairly obvious that vehicular combat would be in serious consideration as an expansion at a later date should things go well for the game in this helter-skelter world of MMOs.

We also learned about the Archaeologist and Scientist character classes (available only to humans). The devs want to make these extremely necessary in the grand scheme of the game, as in many MMO’s the specialty classes end up being an after thought. These two classes are vital for not only researching and creating new weapons, etc, but also in completing special ‘mini-games’ encountered on missions. These mini-games are how players hack into doors and other technologies. Early on, anyone will be able to do them. However, at later levels they will be virtually impossible for anyone else to do other than the non-combat oriented classes, which get special abilities and tools that allow them to complete these tasks. The mini-games are all done on a Flash layer (though processing is still server-side so don’t get any funny ideas).

Then it was our turn to take the reigns. Unfortunately, the hotel’s network connection was being flooded at the time so we dealt with some lag here and there, but the cover system kept the action moving nicely. It was a pleasant mix of taking cover then running to new cover when needed and helped capture the gun-battles of the show, in which the small SG teams take on outnumbering foes by the use of tactics instead of raw force. And in the Lucia Flats where we were engaged at, there was plenty of rubble to use. Those pesky Lucian Alliance guys…

We were impressed by Stargate Worlds and can’t wait to get a chance to go through the gate again.

Official Site

Gameplay Footage:

Comic Con 2008 – Rise of the Argonauts Impressions

Also at the Codemasters’ booth during this year’s San Diego Comic Con was a dev-run demo of Rise of the Argonauts, their upcoming Greek mythology-steeped action-RPG. Steve Cornett, a designer at Liquid Entertainment took us through the demo and we send our thanks to him for his VERY in-depth knowledge of Greek mythology which served to greatly enhance what we saw.

You play as Jason, and proceed on your quest to obtain the golden fleece, which is said to have the power of resurrection. On your journey, you are accompanied by the other Argonauts which include the likes of Hercules and Achilles. In addition, you will meet several more throughout the game who will join your crew. What we saw was an awesome display of brutality which reminded us, slightly, of watching the battle scenes of the movie 300.

Combat is reminiscent of God of War only in that opponents often come at you and your two companions (you choose the two you want by your side, usually, when you disembark your sea vessel) by various directions at the same time. Jason will block with his shield automatically as is possible and damage, due to the fact that there is no UI in the title, is shown directly on the characters. With combat being very realistic, you usually do not have to wear down your opponent’s health bar. A couple well-struck hits depending on your weapon-type should kill the standard-variety mob. A big emphasis in combat is placed on getting around armor, and in the demo I saw being played, Jason used his spear to counter-attack and take out a well-armored foe. His spear, while not the best against groups of enemies, is excellent at exploiting the ‘chinks’ in even the best armor. In addition, when Jason or his companions score a brutal hit on the enemy, they are often dispatched in the goriest of manners…hehe.

Jason has an awesome assortment of weapons which include the types of a spear, mace, shield, and a sword on his person all the time. There are many different versions of these weapons in each type to be found throughout the game (as there is armor). Unlike other titles, Jason does not ‘loot’ mobs in the game as he already uses the best of equipment. Only items of the most awesome quality (and usually a long back story of their creation and/or usage) are taken by him to use on the quest.

A HUGE element of the game comes from which patron god you have the most favor from. Just about everything you do in the game from conversational choices to weapons you use more than others will affect which god you gain favor in. The patron gods are Ares, Hermes, Apollo, and Athena all have different focuses. For instance, Apollo favors the player with the options of learning more defensive skills while Ares will favor the player by giving them thee option to learn more offensive skills. As such, you increase their favor by using items that reflect that. Using your mace, which is very slow but very powerful, will increase the favor of Ares. You can gain favor in whatever gods you see fit in order to customize your character’s abilities to the fullest.

Another aspect of the game which we liked was the ability to directly-influence the storyline. For instance, after battling Medusa, it is up to the player whether or not to kill her or bring her back from damnation, in which case she will join the crew of the Argos. While there is only one ending in the game, the player can take many different routes to reach it.

Official Page

Comic Con 2008 – Damnation Impressions

Yesterday, we got the chance to take a look at Codemasters’ upcoming third-person action-shooter, Damnation. Set for release sometime in late 2008 / early 2009 on the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 platforms, the game is shaping up very well and keeps with the recent Codemasters’ trend of designing games without user-interfaces (save for showing an icon of the currently selected weapon and ammo count) in order to increase the cinematic quality of the game as well as immersion. There is also no mini-map, the game relying on careful level design to give the player a ‘sense’ of where to go next.

The game is set in an alternate history where the American Civil War has spanned for 8 decades. The technology seen in the game has been designed as modern equivalents of older tech seen during the war. Damage is all shown on the screen through a visual de-saturation effect. The more damaged you are, the more the screen loses its color. The game will support 2-player drop-in/drop-out coop through the campaign as well as some as yet unannounced multi-player modes.

Gameplay has been said to be a cross between Prince of Persia and Gears of War. While the similarities seem to exist between the titles in terms of navigating the landscape and freneticism, Damnation does not feature a cover system but does allow the player to fire (when it makes sense) while climbing/scaling objects. In the demo we saw, the dev sent the protagonist hurling himself through a window in a very cool combat roll. The levels are vast, spanning many kilometers. The level we saw had the player slide down an electrical cable strewn over a vast chasm. The level of detail adjusted very well and the gameplay was smooth and without any stutters.

The player has the ability to enter a mode called ‘spirit vision’, in which they can see other character’s auras through walls and other terrain. This is said to make multiplayer matches very interesting, with the focus on constantly moving to keep your opponents off-guard. In the single-player/co-op campaign, it will help the player locate the position of enemy snipers and other hidden baddies.

We will bring you more information on this title when it becomes available (probably at Leipzig).

Product Page

SUBSONIC Laser Sword Raises too Many Questions

SUBSONIC, a French peripheral maker, is developing and marketing a device they call the ‘laser sword’ for use in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed on the Nintendo Wii. Personally, we think it just looks too hilarious to attempt to try out. We will leave it to you to come up with your own explanations. But just think what the first thing many people will do once the vibration function starts rumbling…

Ground Environment X – USA and Canada Review

Ahhhh yes…the world of flight simulation… We love flight sims here at the Shogun office, well, some of us do. Others can’t understand what we find so enjoyable about the simulation of flight, no goals or mission objectives, just you and your machine cruising about on your own terms.

For those of you who ‘get it’, you know what we mean. And you will understand why we are so excited about Flight1’s Ground Environment X – USA & Canada. Normally, our reviews are very objective and give a good pro vs con argument of a product. Not so in this case. And that is primarily the fault of Flight1, who has such a great product in GEX, it is hard to find a ‘con’ to it.

The basic world textures in Microsoft’s Flight Simulator X are much improved over its predecessor’s (FS9). Unfortunately, they are still way too pixelated and low res to promote the needed realism to match the rest of the incredible graphics of the title. You have this beautiful aircraft, weather, and lighting…then the frumpy ground texture.

Enter Flight1, and their add-on to the game, Ground Environment X. GEX replaces all those ‘frumpy’ ground textures with photo-realistic ones that cover the entirety of the US and Canada (yay Canucks!). The difference is very noticeable in FSX and amazingly noticeable in FS9, where the ground textures are considerably worse than FSX to begin with. The textures are extremely crisp and have better organized auto-gen in most areas, meaning that you shouldn’t have trees popping up on top of buildings, etc (although this still happens now and again).

The textures will cover every area, season, weather condition, and time of day possible with realistic changes depending on the condition. Night time is especially brilliant with street lighting, etc to guide you in your difficult VFR journey. They even have ‘blend’ textures when an environment changes (such as daytime to nighttime). We were also impressed with the fact that game performance was not significantly affected by the add-on.

For $34.95, you would be hard-pressed to find any better texture replacement for Flight Simulator 9 and X that has the quality and feature set of Flight1’s Ground Environment X – USA & Canada.

The full feature list:
   * Complete coverage of the USA and Canada (including Alaska).
* 1m/pixel – 1024 x 1024 Texture Size – Hand Crafted To extreme Detail.
* High Performance, extreme density and perfectly aligned autogen.
* Realistic custom designed night textures.
* All seasons including snowy winter.
* Textures derived from licensed Arial and Satellite imagery.
* Fine tuned add-ons and ongoing updates and enhancements will be made available through the built-in update feature, based on customer feedback.
* Textures have been enhanced to provide even more texture clarity.
* Enhancements to produce simulated 3D depth in texture foliage.
* New winter textures which display vegetation within the snow.
* Better season blend so seasons such as fall fade into winter and blend naturally.
* Enhanced color processing which upgrades all seasons.
* Enriched desert and flatland details, no more bland yellow deserts or flatlands.
* Structured texture layout to assist in covering all major landclass products.
* Special features for Ultimate Terrain X USA and Canada Customers.
* Completely redesigned night lighting environment.

Ground Environment X is available here.

Comic Con 2008 – Seek the Six Viral Marketing Begins

**UPDATE: We have solved this puzzle and posted the spoiler in the Live Updates section after the break.

Looks like a new viral marketing campaign has begun. We received a cryptic email stating the following:

If someone was watching us, what would they see?
Seek the Six.
70.87.154.219

Upon going to the site, we were visited by a camera looking back at us followed by what appears to be a sort of mini-game which we have just begun to look at.

The domain is registered to someone at Deep-Focus.com, a marketing company, so it is safe to assume this is the beginning of a viral campaign just in time for Comic Con. Enjoy!

***SPOILER INVISO-TEXT: Well as it turns out, it doesnt take that long to figure out. Seems to be a game touting the upcoming reinterpretation of The Prisoner. It looks to star Ian McKellan.

GMC Noblesse K-2 Ebony Review

The Korean PC case developer GMC has long been known for their stylish and novel enclosure designs. One of their latest designs, the Noblesse K-2 ended up in our capable hands so we put it through the motions.

As you can see, the Noblesse K-2 Ebony is no slouch in the looks department. Everything on the front of the case is a button of some kind, and the integrated LCD panel that displays temperature and fan speed (among other things) is a blessing for those performance-minded individuals out there. The case would look equally great in an a/v cabinet or out in the open. It is not only functional but also a good conversation piece. Also included in the case is an ir remote control.

Here is the full list of front-panel controls:
-Volume control and mute function
-Multi Memory Card Reader(9 in 1)
-System condition LCD display
-Hot key, Navigation jog button
-Music and Movie control by play control button

Most of these functions are readily accessible through the included iMedian software, which acts a Windows Media Center replacement. Something we appreciated was that this application comes with most of the code cs you will need whereas the Windows Media Center usually requires some additional codec downloading.

We enjoyed many hours of South Park videos, HD-DVDs (yes we are one of those), and even some streaming vids of the ‘net. The experience was very enjoyable, and the K-2 Ebony was a joy to use.

The side-swapping hard drive bays are an excellent addition to the case which allows for a quick installation and removal of HDDs without having to take off both sides of the case. We wish more enclosure manufacturers would take note of this feature.

The only real problem we could see is the issue of space. When fitted with a large Nvidia graphics card there is not a lot of wiggle room left in there. This can make cable management a slippery slope. One change they might want to consider is swapping the location of the power supply from the top of the case to the bottom and shifting everything else upwards.

Bare in mind, however, that this case is designed as a multimedia PC more than anything else. If they were to come out with a ‘gaming model’ of this enclosure, we would hope they would another fan or two to compliment its front-mounted 140mm and rear-mounted 120mm fans.As it stands, we would not recommend a Gtx 280 be placed in this case as we were getting temperatures up to 100 degrees Celsius at its core when playing Age of Conan, however it is worth noting that the Gtx 280 is the hottest-running GPU on the market today.For an upper mid-level gaming system running a Radeon 4850 or 4870, the K-2 would work great and also turn heads at a LAN event to boot.

The case is a bit pricey at an MSRP of $250 dollars, but if you are looking for the ultimate desktop-style multimedia PC case you can’t do much better than the Noblesse K-2 Ebony. It is a solid upgrade from the K-1 and features a ton of improvements in case design which make it an excellent home theater PC enclosure.

Official Product Page

Sapphire HD 4850 512MB Review

Here at the GamingShogun office, we are always looking for great gaming hardware. We got our hot little hands on a Sapphire HD 4850 video card with 512MB of DDR3 RAM recently, and thought we would bring our findings to the fore so you can enjoy them as well. We know, you can thank us later.

The 4850 represents the first of the ‘next-gen’ line of graphics processing units which is pinnacled with the Radeon 4870. The 4850 is the more budget-minded of the two, retailing for roughly $180 dollars. When we first heard the price, we thought that there was no way we would be happy with a GPU like that. We came to the realization that we had believed a video card needed to be expensive in order to be good. Happily, my friends, I can say that ‘axiom’ has proven false in the 4850.

Radeon 4850 Quick Specs:
-Display Output: Dual DL-DVI-I+HDTV
-Core Clock: 625 MHz
-Memory Clock: 993MHz, 1986 Mbps.
-PCI Express 2.0 x16 bus interface
-512MB /256bit GDDR3 memory interface
-Single Slot Active Cooler
-HDMI compliant via dongle
-7.1 Audio Channel Support
-Microsoft® DirectX® 10.1 support
-Shader Model 4.1 support

Our computers here in the Shogun offices run Nvidia Gtx 280 GPUs, so we thought there was no better opponent we could pit our ‘little’ 4850 against. And I say ‘little’ because in comparison to even an Nvidia 9800gtx, the Radeon 4850 has a much thinner profile. Not only is the profile thinner, meaning it will more handily fit inside even cramped PC cases, but it also only requires one 6-pin PCI-E power connector. These are already pluses in our book, but I digress. So we are pitting it against a Gtx 280 in a severely unfair fight. One is a budget gaming GPU and the other is a flagship model. For us, if the 4850 can perform reasonably, it will have succeeded where many others have failed. Remember, the 4850 retails for $180 dollars whereas the Gtx 280 retails anywhere from $500 to $800 dollars depending on the edition you purchase.

So, we fired up our rigs and began the benchmarking goodness. For our tests, we are using 3dMark06 and 3dMark Vantage. Vantage takes advantage of alot more modern features and is capable of bringing even the latest multi-GPU setups to their collective knees. 3dMark06 is the more mainstream, forgiving test of a GPU’s capabilities. The rig we chose to test the cards on is an average dual core system:

-AMD Athlon AM2 X2 6000+ 3.0gHz Black Edition CPU
-4096 GB DDR2 800 RAM
-Asus M2N-SLI dlx Mobo

In each benchmarking applications, we ran a series of tests with different resolutions, anti-aliasing, and anisotropic filtering levels. Now that we have gotten this out of the way…FIGHT!!!

3d Mark 06 – Return to Proxyon

The Radeon performs admirably in all of these tests, only dropping to some unplayable frame rates at 8XAA and 8XAF at the 1920×1200 resolution.

3d Mark 06 – Firefly Forest

The results of the lighting-effect heavy GPU test are slightly worse than the those of Test 1, but not by much. The 4850 is still pulling its own weight at the 2XAA and 2XAF settings at the high resolution mode.

3d Mark Vantage – Jane Nash

This is where things start turning to molasses for even a Gtx 280 at the highest settings. The 3d Mark Vantage stresses every nook and cranny the GPU has. While not playable at the higher settings, the 4850 performs very well at both 1024×768 modes.

3d Mark Vantage – New Calico

New Calico is the most taxing of the new 3d Mark tests, so it is no surprise that all the scores are on the low side. This being said, even at the 1024×768 modes, the 4850 is still playable. By turning off AA and AF altogether, the performance would increase by a bit more as well.

The results of these benchmarks show that while out-gunned and out-classed on paper, the Radeon 4850 provides solid performance at most of the benchmark modes, save for the highly-advanced tests. Couple these results with the fact that two Radeon 4850s on a CrossFire build would cost roughly $360 dollars (a full $140 dollars cheaper than the cheapest Gtx 280) and you have yourself an inexpensive power house with low power requirements. Even with just one Radeon 4850, you will be able to play the latest games at varying levels of graphics detail without issue. We wish the 4850 had the DDR5 memory of its older brother but that is a very minor negative considering the 4870s are roughly $100 dollars more expensive.

We are most interested in seeing what happens to our frame rates when we put three 4850s in a rig at the same time. That configuration would only be $40 dollars more expensive than the cheapest Gtx 280! We have scored the Sapphire 4850 with high marks as we could not find a better performance-to-value GPU on the market at the time of this writing anywhere. Even Nvidia’s 9800 GTX+ models are not scoring as high according to various benchmarks.

Official Product Page

E3 2008 – Bionic Commando Hands On Impressions

Today we got the chance to play Grin’s upcoming Bionic Commando. We would like to thank Grin’s Gunnar Johansson for graciously giving us a peak at this title. They have three levels on display for us to play in: two within a nuked city and the other in a densly-wooded forest.

We start off in our destroyed city, buildings collapsing around us with smoke billowing out like liquid in every direction, enveloping the shattered streets. The scene is fairly eerie and reminiscent of 9/11 – further enhancing the gravity of the situation. Unfortunately, with the city being as torn up as it is, the quickest way around is to make use of your VERY cool bionic arm. Swinging from broken street lamp to broken street lamp is a very cool experience, if you can master the technique of using the arm.

It took us about thirty minutes to really get a grasp on the system, which involves pushing and holding the left trigger button on your Xbox 360 controller in order to shoot out the bionic arm and keep it attached to your target. Then, in mid-swing, you let go of the left trigger to release the arm, followed by shooting it out again to grasp your next pendulum point. While sounding easy, the strange human habbit exists to let go of the trigger at the apex of your swing, which will send all of your momentum straight up…then straight down again, not good. Ideally, you will let go of the trigger just at the bottom of your swing to fully make use of your built up kinetic energy. There is definitely a learning curve to making use of the bionic arm. However, once you get the hang of it – it is a thing of beauty to watch.

The bionic commando of the title has a variety of weapons at his disposal, including machine guns, grenades, shotguns, etc. However, the coolest weapon he has is the arm. By shooting it out to grasp bad guys you can hurl them great distances, zip-kick over to them, knocking them down, bringing them to you, and a whole lot more that the developers are planning to implement.

Enemy troops we fought in the E3 demonstrations version seemed intelligent enough to seek cover as well as press their attack at the right moments. Eventually, you can learn new moves aside from using the bionic arm. You can learn to uppercut large objects (even cars), jump up, and then punch them in the air towards the direction of your enemies. There is nothing quite as satisfying as killing your opponents by dropping a car on them.

Overall, Bionic Commando looks to have great promise and fun when you get the hang of it. While the game has no announced release date yet, we would guestimate it to be early next year.

E3 2008 – Bethesda E3 After Party

Well Shogunites, we’ve just gotten back from an E3 after party, generously hosted by Bethesda at the Saddle Ranch Chop House, off Sunset Blvd in Los Angeles. I’d estimate around 100 people attended.

What can I say? Good food, free drinks, karaoke, and (insert dramatic pause) a genuine mechanical bull! Yes, many attendees threw caution (and pride) to the wind and tried their hands to best the fowl faux beast! All failed. In between bull bouts, the Shogun bestowed a rare gift upon the crowd by singing Bon Jovi’s Wanted: Dead or Alive as well as Oasis’ Wonderwall. All were mesmerized and raised cheer at the Shogun’s harmonic prowess.

For dinner, we were offered a wide variety of fried foods: onion rings (covered with what appeared to be parmesian cheese), jalapeno poppers, fried mushrooms (I think that’s what they were), mini burgers, buffalo wings, and a variety of dipping sauces. Finger licking good! For dessert, there was chocolate cake as well as smores ingredients. I must note, however, that no flame was provided to toast the marshmallows. This makes for pisspoor smores, so I tried to roast one over the oil lamp flame at our table. The Shogun cautioned me against ingesting the result. I learned years ago to take the Shogun’s advice when offered and refrained from consuming the smore. As well I did. In better light I noticed the oil lamp flame provided some odd purple/black (not char) coating to my marshmallow that probably wouldn’t have been healthy to eat.

Thanks Shogun!

Thanks Bethesda! Can’t wait till Thursday for our Fallout 3 demo. Stay tuned for udates Shogunites!